British Columbia

A $3.50 parking charge can turn into an $89 fine — but you don't necessarily need to pay it in full

Pratik Mehta thought he was only paying $3.50 for a half hour of parking at an Impark lot in downtown Vancouver last May. Instead, he came away with bill for $89.25 for overstaying by 20 minutes. 

Fee for overstaying 20 minutes 'outrageous, arbitrary,' says Impark customer

Pratik Mehta, a pharmacist from Abbotsford, B.C., is angry about the high violation fee he was charged at an Impark lot in downtown Vancouver. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

Pratik Mehta thought he only was paying $3.50 for a half hour of parking at an Impark lot in downtown Vancouver last May.

Instead, he came away with bill for $89.25 for overstaying by 20 minutes. 

"It's definitely outrageous and definitely arbitrary" says Mehta.

His oversight? Mehta hadn't seen the sign where the small print notifies Impark customers they are liable for an $85 fee plus GST for violations. And the company's within its rights to make that demand.

 
A parking "notice" is not the same as a parking ticket as the fines are not set by a public regulator. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

It's a common experience for parking infractions on private lots. A customer overstays their time in the lot.  A notice  to pay — looking like an official ticket — is left on the windshield. The cost seems high and the customer is upset.

What customers may not realize is that these are not official fines. And if you don't pay, you won't necessarily be towed next time you park in that company's lots.

Mehta eventually paid most of the fine, but he thinks it was far too high for his small infraction.

'Quite a steep amount'

Mehta, 47, a pharmacist from Abbotsford, had been touring friends around Vancouver when he parked at the lot operated by Imperial Parking Canada Corporation at  200 Burrard Street for what he thought would be a 30-minute stay to take photos at Canada Place

When he and his group returned, he was dismayed to find a notice for $89.25 from Impark on his car windshield.

A meter and signage at an Impark lot in downtown Vancouver. The small print warns customers of an $85 fee plus GST for violations. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Mehta did pay — but  not the full $89.25. The notice said that if he paid within seven days, he only would be charged $68.25.

$5 discount 

Mehta called Impark several times, acknowledging he was at fault for losing track of time, but asking if the company would accept half.  He was told no, the best it could offer was a $5 discount.

"They said even if you were late by even one minute it would be the same amount" he said.

In the end, he paid $63.25.

"The amount is unreasonable" he said, noting the fee for a  full day of parking at that lot is $34. 

'There should be a limit'

 "There should be a cap, a limit on this" he said.

Impark did not respond to CBC's requests for an interview by deadline.

Vancouver criminal lawyer Paul Doroshenko says when you get a violation notice on your windshield, it isn't an official ticket. 

Lawyer Paul Doroshenko say the violation notices from private lots aren't official tickets, but a warning the company wants to collect for breach of contract. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Instead you are getting notice from the parking company that you have broken a contract with it. By driving on the lot you have agreed to pay for parking. If you are late, the question is what are the "damages" the company is entitled to claim from you.

"You've got to think about what the actual damages are," he said. "The actual damages are the next hour of parking if you've gone over into that next hour by mistake." 

Pay less advises lawyer

Doroshenko says when he gets a violation notice, he writes a cheque to the company for the unpaid time he was there. 

For example, he says that if he overstayed an hour, and the rate is $4 per hour, he mails the parking company a cheque for $4 with a letter saying that it is "in full and final settlement". 

When the company cashes the cheque, it has agreed to the settlement and can't claim you owe it money.

Former Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang, who is a director of EasyPark, a parking company that is 50 per cent owned by the City of Vancouver,  says Doroshenko  just has been lucky.

City doesn't regulate 

He believes that all parking companies — including EasyPark — will go after customers who have not paid the amount on the ticket. "There is still the cost ... of writing the ticket, following up with you, sending you letters," he told CBC News.

"It's the deterrent factor.... I would not see them just settling it."

Kerry Jang, a former Vancouver city councillor, is currently a director of EasyPark, a parking corporation operated and partly owned by the city. (Enzo Zanatta/CBC)

Jang says the city makes rules about land use for businesses, but does not regulate the amount businesses can claim against citizens for breach of parking contracts.

Jag Sandhu, spokesperson for the City of Vancouver, wrote CBC in an email that "pricing in private paid lots falls outside the city's jurisdiction."

However, the city does have a bylaw governing towing from private lots. There is a two-hour grace period after the expiry of a parking ticket purchased from a machine at a private lot before the vehicle may be towed. 

The small print in the sign at an Impark lot warns customers of an $85 fee plus GST if they violate the rules. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Jang says parking companies don't necessarily tow as soon as a "ticket" goes unpaid. The company often will wait until the file goes to a collection agency, he told CBC News. 

As for Mehta, he says he will be avoiding parking at Impark in future. "Even if I have to walk a block or two blocks, I will not be parking at Impark" he said.

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